Both long distance (E4 path) and short gorge walks are available for those who like to stretch their legs. The E4, which runs between Kato Zakros on the east coast, and Kissamos Kastelli, on the northwest coast, runs through the Herakleion nomos, passing Kastelli (Pediados), Archanes, Profitis Ilias, Ano Asites, before taking you across Mt Ida, or around it (via Zaros and the village of Kamares), depending on your choice. Included at the bottom of this page, is an edited piece by Stelios Jackson, on the E4 trail through Herakleion, which has appeared on other websites, but for now let’s concentrate on the gorges of this nomos.
Kavousi Gorge ~ Situated a short distance west of the site of Chondros, and south of the three villages of Viannos, this gorge, starting at a monastery, is around 3 Kms in length.
Rouvas Gorge, Zaros ~ Walking around Zaros is an absolute delight, and the gorge of Rouvas, one of its highlights. Situated by a "lake" (really a reservoir), north of Zaros itself, one passes the monastery of Aghios Nikolaos. Behind the monastery, the gorge starts in earnest; the forset which was here a few years back, was sadly desrroyed by a fire, but don’t let that put you off. The undulating path has wooden bridges to cross what would be inaccessable parts of the gorge, and is a round-trip (from Zaros) of some four to five hours.
Knossano Gorge, Archanes ~ Otherwise known as the ‘Aghia Irini’ gorge ~(not to be counfused with the one of the same name in the province of Chania), this gorge is 6 Kms long and runs from the northwest of Kato Archanes, at the edge of the famous Mt. Juktas (a curruption of the Roman god Jupiter, equivalent to the Greek Zeus, who legend has it, died here), down - as the name would suggest - to the Knossos area. Near the village of Kato Mylos, you’ll come across a beautiful bridge, visible from the gorge, named the ‘Karydakiani bridge’.
Aghios Antonios Gorge ~ Situated some 30 Kms south of Herakleion, and a short distance north-west of Kato Asites, this gorge is named after the church which nestles within. It high elevation (1100 metres) make this a walk for those interested in flora, with four species threatened by extinction.
Portela Gorge ~ This gorge’s entrance can be found close to Chondros, and should be walked only by experienced hikers, and with extreme caution. It ends at the sea, at Keratokampos, which is another name by which the gorge sometimes goes.
Ambelos Gorge ~ 14 Kms south of Malia, and close the village of Gonies, the Ambelos gorge is one of those which can be walked or driven, and at only two Kms long, walking it should be quite easily achieved by most. There are three springs along its length, providing water year round. It is crossed by the Aposelmis river, and in itself becomes a trubutary of that river during the winter. Another gorge - an offshoot of Ambelos - can be found within, and is called the Roza gorge.
Crossing the E4 through Herakleion
Just west of Herakleion’s border with Lassithi, a village called Toichos can be found (though somewhat cut-off from the latter nomos due to the road between having collapsed!). This road continues west from here, taking one to Kastelli Pediados, via the rather splendid ruins of ancient Lyttos (see Archaeology). Accommodation can be found here, which should set you up nicely for the following day’s walk, to the beautiful town of Archanes. The road runs adjacent to the E4 trail, and is worth sticking to.
The road can be quite a pleasure to walk for a glimpse of life in the hinterland of Herakleion. It has the occasional passing car on it, and it is customary for cars to offer hikers (or hitch hikers) rides. It is hardly the quietest road but the scenery more than makes up for that. One of the villages you come across is Aghies Paraskies, a pretty place with smiling people, a mere 1Km from the main road which take the driver from Heraklion to the South. Continuing on the road, one comes to a couple of wineries, and a further Km or so beyond these, a left turn after the village of Zagousianoi (which is not at all a bad place) takes you through relatively ugly territory, and then into the village of Katalagari. Here, everything reverts to the Cretan norm. This is a pretty village, close enough to Herakleion and the town of Archanes to allow for a couple of kafenions (coffee shops) and ice-cream parlours.
A few winding turns later you should come across the town of Archanes nestling beneath, in a valley. The town looks very pleasant from up here. You will probably pass a couple of rather nice looking holiday villas (rented out on a weekly basis) as you descend down into Archanes. After a tour round Archanes stop at the square for a beer at a large and the rather nice kafeneion called 'Spitimo'. If you want to stay overnight, a 15 minute walk will take you to 'Rooms Orestes' which are comfortable enough.
Consider going the next day from Archanes to Ano Asites, perched on the west of the Ida range of mountains. On the south-western side of Archanes, a rather pretty trail skirts the southern side of Mount Juktas, and half an hour after setting off, you can reach the mountain's other side. You may spot E4 sign followed soon after, as you head north. Another sign suggests that you could head west, but you could also find yet another sign painted onto the side of the mountain to continue walking North. This will take you through a village before heading west to the village of Profitis Ilias and the church of Pouka.
The track takes you past a couple of other churches, as it winds its way upwards to Pouka. Relax at Profitis Ilias' coffee shop (kafeneion). The old castle of Kanli Kastelli on the west side of the village is worthy of a visit. As you hike along and if you're lucky, an E4 pole could appear to your right (north). After some winding and possibly a couple of incorrectly chosen paths, you could come across a series of E4 poles, eventually leading you to a river. Don't cross the river as it's full of silt. It would be best to head back towards Profitis Ilias and take the route through Kiparissos, then the remote villages of Pyrgos and Sinapi, and then on to Venerato.
You'll be met here with an element of "je ne sais quoi"; a kind of remoteness; a spirit of place, disturbed only by the extremely occasional passing of a car. Just after the village of Sinapi, the road swings from a westerly direction to a north westerly one, and this is where it becomes, all up-hill. The distance between Sinapi and Venerato is 8Kms, so you may want to sit down beside a river and take in a bit of scenery. The road up to Venerato, is pretty splendid. As you ascend the couple of hundred metres altitude from the river to the village, look back on the panoramic vista that presents itself. The village is a relatively sizeable place with a population of around 1,000, and a Venetian heritage.
Arriving in Ano Asites (population 423; elevation 480 metres) you will see that there isn't much to discover after lazing in the local coffee shop, leaving you with two options: the first is to cross the Ida range via the Ideion Andron, the second is to walk around the Ida range.
From Ano Asites, if decide on the climb, a sign points you in the direction of a mountain hut. It’s a steep climb, as you’d expect, but in little more than an hour and a half, you will find yourself besides two stone buildings, one of which was supplies accommodation for those with a key, the other which accommodates without a key. The following morning you could walk to the Ideion Andron mostly in a downhill direction. A road bisects the mountain side, and by walking along it you eventually get to your desired destination, though it’s a tough slog at times. There is a taverna here, which should also supply accommodation, but it might be closed so don't count on it. You may have to spend another night sleeping out, or hopefully enjoying some shelter in an annex of the building. For the following day’s walk climb to the top of Ida (Psiloritis) before taking a westerly path which ends at Fourfouras. The trail is well way-marked, but tough going at times. It could take you most of the day, but the scenery is splendid and the summit of Psiloritis, with its chapel of Timios Stavros, affords spectacular views from Crete’s highest mountain (2456 metres). If you do climb the mountain make sure you have enough water supplies.
Next on your path should be Aghia Varvara (pronounced "Varvaara", often transliterated, wrongly, as "Barbara"), a likeable little town with something real and vibrant about it. Continuing along, pretty villages minding their own business will cross your path, and the last of these, Nyvritos, is an hour’s walk from Zaros.
After a night in any of these, you can head to the village of Vorizia. You may end up at Kamaras (Alt.: 600 metres; pop.1991: 491), passing by a sign for the path that leads to the Kamares cave. Consider also visiting Phaistos (see archaeology), which you will see looking in the direction of 'Psiloritis' way, depending on the weather. Trudge towards the village of Lochria passing through villages of Ardaktos, Platanos and Vathiako, for an exhilarating hike.